Title: Name of a Star / Children of the West Wind

Title: Name of a Star / Children of the West Wind

Pairing: Sephiroth/Rufus (main); Zack/Cloud, Angeal/Genesis

Rating: I guess NC-17 for a few Seph/Rufus scenes

The Prompt: Once, all men had eight limbs and two heads, but they realised they could not live that way. And so they were separated into two beings, so that each man had only one head and four limbs. But their souls, too, were torn – and now every man spends his life searching for the other half of his soul.

AN: Written for zacksblade as part of an exchange fic. I'm so sorry this took so long! The fic totally ran away with me – a 27 page MONSTER – and I lost control completely. I'm sorry I didn't really use your prompt – the characters were adamant. This is their story – I hope you all enjoy.


Present Day

Time stops.

Time stops, and space stretches. It's as if the whole world, the whole planet is against him – the hallways were never this long, the stairs never this steep, the Turks and bodyguards and security never this tight, this curious, this 'Now sir, we'll have to take you back to your rooms…Traumatic experience syndrome…Not thinking clearly…Your father's orders…"

He really has to remember to thank Reno for the loan of his electro-rod.

Hurriedly, fingers scrabbling at the buttons, he jerks the card through the scanner, unable to breathe until the frosted-glass door swings open to his touch – and then he's off again, casual sneakers almost skidding on the polished floors as he spins around a corner, breathing hard and not caring, unable to care because he has to get there in time, has to make it, and if he stops for even an instant the whole damn thing's going to hit him like a ton of bricks and he won't be able to do this.

Rufus ShinRa runs as if the world is ending.

And for him, it is.


Five Years Previously

One of the many things Rufus has learned as the son of one of the most powerful men in the world, is that there are different kinds of Turks.

For example. There is Tseng, the Turks' commander. The man who comes across as strict, rigid unbending, with all the faith of a priest or minister in the rules (laws) that govern his little group of warriors. If not standing at the side of the President, or in his office, then he is seated comfortably in the library, reading something thick and heavy.

But he always has a small smile for Rufus – and the ShinRa prince is probably the only one to know that Tseng's favourite kind of novel is a light, fluffy chick-lit, the kind with glossy, summer-holiday covers that he never reads in public.

And there is Reno.

That's how he divides them in his mind – Tseng and Reno's groups. The two sides on either side of the line that runs down the Turks' ranks.

It's Reno and his gang that sneak him out of the ShinRa apartments at least once a month. A few weeks after his thirteenth birthday, it's just Reno that coaxes (drags) him out into the city, that shows him around the darker, more exciting back-doors of the Sectors, the red-haired Turk declaring that he was too old to stay cooped up in some velvet-lined bird-cage any longer.

Next time, Rude comes with them too, and Rufus is treated to the dubious delight of his first taste of alcohol. Reno, grinning, won't tell him the drink's name, and Rude just sits there, shaking his head as Rufus, determined, downs it in one go.

He never did learn what the hell Reno told Tseng when he spent the next week puking his guts out.

After that, Adrian joins their little gang, and while he and Reno seem a little too alike for Rufus' ease of mind, they keep each other occupied, and with Rude watching everything he drinks Rufus never has to experience the gut-melting sensation of alcohol poisoning again.

)0(

He's thirteen years old and eight months the first time he sees a man die.

Adrian's drunk, one hand curled around the neck of a glass bottle without a label, holding onto Rude's shoulder as he sings uproariously, almost falling off his bar stool and laughing. Reno's over by the pool table, wielding the stick (doesn't it have a proper name? Reno told him once…a cue, wasn't it?) like a weapon, frowning slightly, tongue between his teeth as he knocks four balls into the little pockets in one go, crowing with alcohol-hazed delight. His opponents don't look pleased, and Rufus doesn't even bother guessing how much money they have riding on the game – Reno does this almost every time, sometimes 'earning' as much as two or three hundred gil a night.

He, himself, is just sitting back in one of the tattered-plush benches that are shoved into the occasional alcove, head back and arms spread as he relaxes. If Reno always plays his games, then this is Rufus' own habit – just calming his mind and being, absorbing the atmosphere of whatever place he's been taken to this time. The sounds, the smells, the tastes on the air and in the back of his throat. Watching the play of light against his closed eyes, completely at ease.

The idea that it might not be safe, to be so relaxed and open in an unfamiliar territory, never occurs to him. Since birth, the role of the Turks has been ingrained into him – and even if he doesn't consciously think of his friends as his protectors, the thought of danger remains an exciting spice that will never really touch him.

And then there's the harsh, toxic stink of some low-class alcohol like an acidic fog in his face, and as his eyes flicker open he catches his breath at the slick, razor-splinter knife pressing against his throat. He can't see it, but he can feel it – can feel the cold, the aching cold against his fluttering pulse-point, and he can't even think, doesn't register the hissed, drugged words or the indescribable face of his assailant.

It's over almost before he realises it's begun. There's a cry, agonised and painful, the tongue-tingling taste and smell of crackling ozone – it all happens instantaneously, in sync and as one with everything else, with the lightning-quick hand that (carefully) jerks the dagger from his neck, with the loud-in-silence thump of a body hitting the uncaring floor.

His eyes meet Reno's, and it's only then that it sinks in – when he sees the light, the laughter, gone from Aurora green. Hard eyes, cold eyes, angry eyes that burn with a fire so cold it makes him shiver, unable to tear his gaze away as the Turk carefully kneels down, runs light hands over his prince, checking for injuries.

Neither of them speaks, but when Reno tugs Rufus close for a tight embrace, like an older cousin, an older brother, a friend, he clings to the Turk like the child he really is.

And ever after, he always imagines that death is green.


Present Day

"Rufus?! I-I mean, sir?!"

He ignores them. His sneakers squeak as he skids, grabbing the corner of the wall as he swings around, desperate not to slip. He can't afford the delay – he can't see a clock, and he never got his watch fixed after the incident with the chocobo and the materia (Reno's idea, of course, it was always his idea) and he doesn't know how much time he has.

If he's too late, he'll tear this planet apart to destroy the ones responsible.


Four Years Previously

Rufus ShinRa is fourteen years, six days, and four hours old when he sees General Sephiroth for the first time.

The entire 'family' is turned out for the occasion – his father, the man whose face he barely recognises from one year to the next; the Turks; the SOLDIER commanders. Reno's off somewhere, but he has Adrian and Rude to keep him company, and Tseng gives him a light smile before his face turns blank and stony once more.

The lecture theatre is almost completely full, and the voices of the waiting spectators are soft and low, whispers. Rufus doesn't deny his boredom when Adrian raises a questioning eyebrow – the Turks have their own language of facial expression and gesture, and Reno's made sure he's well-versed in the 'silent tongue'. A slight twitch of his eyes and an almost indiscernible shrug, and Adrian nods, satisfied and hiding an amused grin.

Rufus narrows his eyes, about to ask what's so funny – when the lights dim somewhat, and the room falls into an almost-silence as a door up on the stage opens, a projector presenting the imagery of the speech as Professor Hojo steps up to the podium.

He starts talking, the pictures on the screen behind him clicking into new depictions of whatever it is that's holding the high-up's of ShinRa enthralled – and he hears Adrian laugh softly beside him.

But he has no eyes, no ears, for anyone but the other man on stage.

Man? Maybe that's a little deceptive – the walking wet-dream can't be eighteen yet, even if he has all the inborn strength of a white tiger, muscle stretched over star-iron, metal fallen from the heavens just to be crafted into his skeleton. A simple black silk shirt, long-sleeved, hugs his chest, contrasting beautifully with the woven-starlight hair – it falls in a silver waterfall almost to his waist, leading the eye into the black leather trousers, tight and manoeuvrable for ease in a fight. Knee-high combat boots complete the outfit, with only his hair and his belt buckle for colour – both bright silver. Even his blade, long and almost brushing the ground, is sheathed in ebony.

He's a white tiger given human form, a snow leopard, something feline and strong and powerful, something beautiful – and he's lived a sheltered life, the only women he's ever seen are the ShinRa secretaries and Elena, but, still, he knows about kissing and touching and sex (with Reno as a guardian, how could he not?) but he's never tried it, never wanted to try it –

Until right this second.

The almost-taste of danger, of power and strength and wild, untameable beauty…It's hypnotising. Addicting. It's like a drug, like adrenalin – and just like that, he's reminded of the night some drunk held a knife to his throat. The fear and the spice and the shaky, trembling excitement once it was over.

It feels something like that. Only so much better.

And then, as Hojo rambled on, gleeful, about his new experiment, his prize, the teenager on stage looked up from the ground.

Rufus felt his heart skip a beat as electric, mako-green eyes locked with his. He doesn't know if the boy felt his staring, or if it was just luck (fate), but that breath-taking gaze pins him to his seat as surely as any blade – and, maybe as a reward for surviving the green intensity (death is green, but he thinks he might want this kind of death) the boy gives a small, small, smile.

And just – like – that –

The fourteen year old Rufus ShinRa gave his heart away.

)0(

Rufus is fourteen years, six days, eight hours, and twenty-six minutes old when he learns the name of the one that owns his heart.

Adrian leans down to whisper it in his ear on the way home, twenty minutes after the two-hour-long presentation (Hojo never knows when to shut up, the slimy bastard). It takes six minutes to get to the car, shaking-hands farewell with various ShinRa executives, and none of them (Reno's back, where'd he go?) make to speak on the drive back.

Until Adrian, slinging a casual arm around his shoulders, leans down and whispers, voice deliberately husky and a laughing grin on his mouth, "His name's Sephiroth."

Sephiroth. He shivers, electric glitter flowing down his spine as the Turk moves away, exchanging laughing words with a curious Reno. It suits him perfectly.

"Sephiroth," he whispers to himself, curled up in a corner of the limo, unaware of the Turks' exchanged glances, amused and, in a way, proud that their (little brother) prince is growing up.

Sephiroth.

It sounds like the name of a star.

Rufus ShinRa is fourteen years, three months, twelve days and eleven hours old the first time he speaks to Sephiroth.

It's some society dinner – Rufus hates them, hates the gilt and the heady wine and the ballrooms. They're all the same – the suck-up officials that turn sneering eyes on him when they think he doesn't see, the guests in their rich clothes that raise eyebrows over a child sitting so close to the head of the table.

He bends his spoon in half when no one's watching, disgusted with the entire charade.

"May I have this seat?"

He's never heard the voice before, but there's no doubt in his mind whose face he'll see as he turns to answer – that dark velvet, smooth chocolate tone couldn't possibly belong to anyone else on the face of the planet.

"Please," he says quietly, inclining with his (bent) spoon, feeling his heart flutter at the amusement behind electric green eyes as Sephiroth pulls out the chair, taking in the decimated cutlery with an invisible grin.

The rest of the world fades to a coloured blur, a muted hum as all he can see is the SOLDIER beside him. The last few months have been tear-jerkers, have left him inconsolable by all save, occasionally, Reno – he spent his days curled up in bed, dreaming, musing, trying to analyse what he felt and why: he knows a name, a face, but not much else, and surely that isn't enough to fall in love with?

But it doesn't matter now – you can't reclaim a heart once you've given it away.

He knew, of course, that Sephiroth was inducted into the SOLDIER program. He's followed every drop and precious scrap of news he could for insight into his silver warrior, and with a gang of Turks at his beck and call he was one of the first to know Sephiroth was nearing the position of General, even after only three months exposure to the real world.

He can see why.

Even as he carefully dissects his veal, spearing it delicately to bring it to his mouth, there's no unease in his movements, no matter how he might feel, surrounded by all these people – Rufus knows, instinctively, that this isn't nearly the same as being surrounded by SOLDIERs on a practice battleground or in a training hall. It's nothing resembling a mess hall – and even there, it's unlikely someone so other is wholly accepted by normal humans. This has to be a hundred times worse.

But you wouldn't know it. Grace, the sharp, keen elegance of a blade slicing through the air, is tangible Rufus can almost taste it – the power hidden just beneath the skin, roiling like a storm at sea. He can smell the ozone; and mako, glittering star-dust mako shining like liquid Lifestream.

He wonders what it tastes like. And if, as the rumours say, Sephiroth holds/contains/embodies more mako than any other living SOLDIER…Could he taste it on Sephiroth's skin, on his lips?

He feels himself flush at the thought, even as butterflies birth in his stomach and it suddenly becomes hard to meet Sephiroth's curious gaze. Just the thought of reaching up and touching the SOLDIER's face, placing a palm on the pale cheek – doing no more than that – makes him feel wonderfully, gloriously sick.

When the dessert course arrives, Rufus stares blankly at the swirl of hot fudge, the finest vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce. It's what he always has at these functions – he's a picky eater, always has been, and everyone who hosts these things knows his menu for the evening; he couldn't care less about appearing more of a child in front of all these people. As if a dessert is going to change their opinion of him.

But he doesn't always have an unusable spoon, and the thought of simply using his fingers doesn't even occur to him. He might have done it at home, in his private rooms with Reno and Adrian and Rude – might have laughed when Adrian turned it into a food-fight, fudge brownies flying everywhere – but the idea of licking his fingers clean of hot, delicious chocolate with Sephiroth sitting right there

His face burns again.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Sephiroth hide a small smile, leaning forward so a curtain of silver almost hides it, and he's never been so embarrassed in his life. He may not care what his father and the rest of them think, but he can't bear the thought of Sephiroth seeing him as a ridiculous child.

"You can have mine."

He looks up, trying to school his expression and not sure he's succeeding as he meets the SOLDIER's unreadable green eyes, following the line of his silk-clad arm to the silver spoon held carefully between two fingers, gleaming in the light from the chandeliers.

"Th…Thank you," he murmurs quietly, noticing with a faint furrowing of brow that Sephiroth doesn't have any dessert, but the thought is forgotten as their fingers brush, exchanging the eating implement from one hand to the other.

It's like touching fire – electric, burning fire, and he only just manages not to drop the spoon in shock.

Smiling again – a small, somehow-friendly smirk – Sephiroth looks away, returning to his silent thoughts.

Rufus stares at the silver spoon in his hand for a moment, thinking. Wondering if he's brave enough.

He's never had to be brave before. It's a strange feeling.

"Would you like to share?" He asks suddenly, looking up again, holding on to his determination as Sephiroth's eyes glitter – first with shock, and then with something he's never seen before, something that's never been in the eyes of anyone looking at him before.

He waved his spoon at the empty space before Sephiroth. "You don't have any…"

He trailed off as embarrassment flared up again – and he wished, Shiva he wished he was at home so he could just run away to his bedroom, because trying to be an adult, trying to impress this amazing, hypnotising being wasn't working, wasn't working at all, and gods he just wanted the earth to swallow him –

"Of course."

"What?" Stunned out of his mental tirade, Rufus is too shocked to protest as Sephiroth plucks gleaming silver from his suddenly useless fingers, twirling the spoon musingly before returning his attention to the ShinRa heir.

"The spoon was originally mine; therefore it's use is designated to me," the SOLDIER explained, answering the question he heard as opposed to the one Rufus asked – what, you'll actually deign to talk to me? To eat with me? Me

And was he smirking?

Shiva, yes, yes he was, and Rufus tried to suppress a shiver as that unreadable something in Sephiroth's eyes flared up, dark and hungry as the spoon cut elegantly through thick, heated chocolate, swirling through the vanilla with the grace of a ballerina before rising to his lips.

Rufus caught his breath as he realised what was happening, and for a moment their gazes met as his lips parted automatically, as delicious, moist brownie and delicate vanilla assaulted his senses; his eyes fluttered closed, trying not to whimper. The intoxicating mix of the finest chocolate, his secret addiction, and the heady scent of mako from Sephiroth's fingers made his head spin, and he chased the spoon automatically as it withdrew, searching out every last speck of the treat with his tongue.

And froze. Remembered where he was; remembered whose hand was at the other end of the spoon.

But Sephiroth seemed anything but amused. He sat very still, face so expressionless Rufus feared he'd made the SOLDIER angry somehow, eyes shuttered as the spoon was set down carefully, leaning on the edge of the porcelain bowl.

Rufus opened his mouth to speak – to apologise, to explain, anything, he didn't know what to say except he wanted to make it right – when Sephiroth's fingertips brushed over his lips.

It only lasts a hundredth of a second, but rough fingertips delve inside his mouth, so quickly he almost misses it as they gently swipe the very tip of his tongue, caress the hard smoothness of his teeth, before withdrawing, the pad of the SOLDIER's thumb lingering over the corner of his lips before pulling away.

"Chocolate," Sephiroth explained – and if the word was innocent, then the voice was not; husky and dark. The expression in his eyes was not – swirling and dark and hungry.

And placing the chocolate-smeared thumb in his own mouth…was not.

Dazed, Rufus licks his lips, eyes unable to focus on anything but dark, unreadable electric green – and he finds that he was right.

He can taste mako on (in) his mouth.


Present Day

The card jams in the lock.

For a moment, Rufus can only stare, wide-eyed – and then the panic hits him.

"No!" He rips the little rectangle of plastic out of the scanner, jerks it through again, fingers flying over the buttons, the finger-print reader, again and again as he types in codes he isn't meant to know. "No, no, no!"

It won't open. The light beeps red – red as a warning. Red as blood.

Red as his friend's hair, appearing on the other side of the glass door like a ghost.

"Rufus!" Reno yells, and from his side the door opens, slammed into the wall as the Turk's hand circles his own like a cuff, pulling him through the doorway into another run. "Rufus, come on! Hurry!"

He doesn't need to be told twice – almost sobbing with breathless relief, the two of them set off again, as fast as they can go.


Three Years Previously

Rufus ShinRa is fifteen years, six months, seven days and nine hours old when he has his first kiss.

After that first time all those months ago, he and Sephiroth always sat together whenever they attended the same functions – be it a feast in honour of some foreign delegation, or a celebration of one of Sephiroth's amazing victories on the field.

And, in an unspoken, mutually enjoyed non-verbal contract, they shared Rufus' dessert of rich chocolate and vanilla every time.

It almost became a joke. Sephiroth, having slipped into his position as General as if he were always meant to be there, was nevertheless often late for these dinners – whether or not he was the guest of honour himself. By the time he arrived, Rufus would have almost snapped his spoon in half with the tension running through his slight frame, and the occupant of his neighbouring chair (if there had ever been one to start with) was long gone by the time the SOLDIER strode like a tiger into the hall.

It was Rude, some time later, that found the growing collection of useless silver cutlery beneath Rufus' bed, each one a precious reminder he couldn't bear to throw away.

The Turk had only given him one of his trademark looks – and said nothing.

After their first meal together, Rufus did manage to gather his courage together and start a conversation before the dreamed-of brownies arrived, dripping in their sauce. Sephiroth seemed almost eager, in his cool, untouchable manner, and the two of them talked of everything ranging from Reno's past misdeeds to the protégé SOLDIERs-in-training Sephiroth had his eye on, the military state of Wutai to books they liked, books they didn't, the best breeds of chocobo…

Everything.

One night, Sephiroth didn't come alone, as he usually did. (At least, there was always a retinue of SOLDERs, mostly First-Classes and commanders, but they sat lower down the table and never entered their thoughts). As he took his usual seat, giving Rufus a light smile, another two men sat down with him – one to his right, the other on the other side of the table; a violet-eyed, black-haired First-Class, and a spikey-headed blond, respectively.

He knew Zack – knew of him, at least; Sephiroth spoke of the man with a thread of genuine warmth, describing his best friend as an insane troublemaker that could talk his way out of punishment as if he had a tongue of gold. Trouble stuck to him like water on stone; it just slid right off, leaving him unscathed.

And there was the public view – that Zachary Donovan was a fearsome, deadly beast in battle, always found in the thickest part of the fighting, right next to his General and friend. Friendly and warm in company, the sight of him to an enemy army was second only to that of Sephiroth's gleaming silver hair.

But he didn't have a clue who the blond was.

Sephiroth carefully eased Zack into their conversations, and Rufus learned soon enough that the First-Class and Reno would get on like a house on fire – and, with their coupled wicked sense of humour and trouble, that would probably be the result.

But the ebony-haired SOLDIER didn't have much attention for the ShinRa prince or his General – all his focus was on the blond boy, the chocobo-headed teenager with bright blue eyes. Maybe sixteen, seventeen, and he blushed like a girl (like Rufus, that first dinner) as Zack teased him, waving a fork loaded with cinnamon-powdered apple-tart in front of his nose.

"Come on, Cloooooooud," Zack grinned, as Cloud's eyes followed the treat back and forth, sky blue gleaming, "You know you want it – "

It was gone before the First-Class could even finish his sentence, and Rufus laughed – suddenly, unexpectedly, for once welcoming the eyes that turned to him in glittering amusement: mako-bright violet, sapphire, green.

Cloud tilted his head, and did something with his eyes – and Rufus could see Zack's eyes darken as the blond pouted, blue gaze shimmering enough to melt a heart of stone. "More?"

It was a frightening thing to watch – frightening in the way that made you shiver like the caress of nails down your spine, like the taste of hot, liquid chocolate on your tongue, like electric green pinning you to your chair. The way Zack's smile turned feral, dark, as he leaned forward, his hands slipping beneath the pearl-white tablecloth, under the table as he purred, "More what?"

Cloud gasped: his cheeks flared red as his eyes glazed over. He bit his lip as his head fell forward, blond spikes shifting and bouncing slightly with the movement, and a sound Rufus had never heard before came out of his mouth as his hands gripped the table.

"Z – Zaaaaack…"

"Yes?" The First-Class purred again as Cloud gasped, made that low, soft noise again: a whimper, a SOLDIER-in-training was whimpering, and Rufus wasn't innocent enough not to be able to work out what exactly Zack was doing under the table; and he didn't think about the people around them, his father only seven or eight feet away, or the countless guests – could only imagine himself in Cloud's place, Sephiroth replacing Zachary.

Those hands, so used to wielding a sword, running slowly up his thighs, skimming the thin cashmere with the faintest whisper…A hot, hard palm resting between his legs, stroking pressure as a mako-soaked mouth worked his, marking every inch of him as the General's – branding him, claiming him.

Rufus ShinRa whimpered as Sephiroth raised a dripping spoon to his mouth; as dark, hungry eyes pinned him and chocolate roiled over his tongue, sliding down his throat, wet and slick, and Cloud bit his lip so hard blood dripped down from his mouth to silence his cry, shuddering and jerking as Zack licked his fingers, smirking like the cat that got the cream – and the chocobo.

"We'll cover for you," he murmured to Sephiroth, sucking his fingertips as his violet eyes met Cloud's. "Go have your fun, Seph."

Rufus doesn't have a chance to wonder what Zack's talking about before Sephiroth's fingers are hot and irresistible around his wrist, tugging him up from the chair and out of the room, and Rufus almost stumbles with the nerves and anticipation and stomach-coiling something as he follows the General into an empty hallway, unquestioning, the air of desperation in the air almost tangible.

Hot breath in his ear, rough fingers on his waist, threaded in his hair as his head's tilted back, and he can't stay silent, can't hide his gasp as his eyes roll back and his head hits the wall.

"Is this what you want?" A husky whisper, hot touch, the scent of mako and chocolate as Rufus groans, gets his hands finally, finally into Sephiroth's long, silver locks, hair as smooth as water, as silk between his fingers.

"Yes, Shiva yes – "

Sephiroth doesn't wait any longer than that – and Rufus whimpers again at the caress of a hot, wet mouth on his, fingers tightening in silver hair, urging him on, begging silently for the dream to never end as the world starts to blur – a strong, firm body pressing him into the wall, demanding, claiming, a hand on his hip and the other in his hair, keeping him still as Sephiroth works his mouth, hard and passionate, bruising brush of lips and bite of teeth.

Only Rufus knows there's more to kissing than this, and even if this is perfect – even if this makes him whimper and moan in Sephiroth's grip, he's desperate to experience everything with Seph, so he tentatively parts his lips, darts his tongue to swipe Sephiroth's mouth just like he's heard Reno talk about.

The General pauses – goes still for a moment.

And it's as if he's accommodating a new fighting technique – almost instantly, he's taken the new knowledge and perfected it, diving for Rufus' mouth, crushing him against the wall as his hands skim up and down Rufus' waist beneath the silk shirt, his tongue wet and slick and it's hard to think, to breathe past the intensity of sensation, of emotion, and it's so god-damn perfect he's shaking with it, trembling with it, and Sephiroth's mouth swallows his cry as lights flash behind his eyes, as he pulls the General even closer through the glittering fireworks in his blood, feeling honey coil slowly with his veins, golden after-glow as Sephiroth shudders in his arms, mouth tearing away from Rufus' lips to burry into his shoulder, breath low and gasping as his hips jerk.

When Sephiroth gently releases him, Rufus would have slid to the floor, unable to stand, if the General hadn't caught him again, carefully, tenderly clutching him tight to his chest, brushing a hand through golden hair, and there's some sound, some soothing, humming purr that gently closes Rufus' tired eyes and lulls him into sweet, sweet sleep.

The last thing he remembers is thinking that chocolate tasted so much better mako-flavoured.

He half-wakes to the soft vibrations of his personal limo, his head resting in Reno's lap as the Turk stares out the tinted window, eyes following the falling rain. The red-head is silent, and across from them Adrian doesn't say a word either – is quiet and uncharacteristically solemn, playing with a random pistol absent-mindedly.

"What are we going to do?" Adrian asks softly, looking up from his fidgeting hands towards his superior. "Leave them be, or…?"

Rufus' eyes are at half-mast – maybe a little less, because even if he can see through a blurred slit, they certainly don't realise that he's awake as Reno's hand brushes softly through his hair.

"If it makes them happy, we've got no right, yo," Reno said quietly, voice empty of light laughter. He didn't look away from the rain, tapping silver fingertips against the window. "But if Seph hurts him, I'll rip the bastard apart myself."

He won't, Rufus thought, curling up a little more, knowing Reno would just think he was shifting in his sleep. He won't hurt me…Ever…


Present Day

Reno takes out the two men guarding the last door in a handful of seconds, and then they're through, finally finally, and Rufus would fall to his knees and cry with the relief if he could.

But it's not over yet. Not even close.

Outside, the stadium is filled with people. There was no court in the world large enough to hold all the people that attended this trial – vultures, monsters that feed on blood and pain, the bastards. He wants to set this place alight, let them all burn

Zack and Cloud are somewhere in that crowd, though – making their way closer and closer to the stage as the charges are read out, speakers and cameras taking the terrible list all over the city, all over the planet as the vultures flock to one man's downfall. The Turks loyal to him, to Rufus over his father, are threading through the people – standing at the backs of dignitaries, of ShinRa officials, guns and daggers and every conceivable type of weapon ready and waiting for his order.


Two Years Previously

It's hard having a relationship with the Great General Sephiroth.

Not because the feelings lessen, or because Seph frightens him. Nothing like that. It's only that, as General, Seph's often away for months at a stretch – and lying in bed, aching for his rough-palmed touch, for the surprisingly gentle kisses, for the perfect rightness, is hard.

The war with Wutai is the worst. It goes on and on and on, and apart from the rare phone calls – the longing I miss you's and half-teasing don't forget me's (he can't help thinking of Zack, of Cloud, of the stunningly beautiful SOLDIERs he's seen, and wondering if mako does something to your appearance as well as your strength) they really don't have much contact.

It's killing him.

He's almost sixteen now – a week left to go – and Reno drags him out for a pre-birthday celebration. Adrian tags along, and somehow or other Rude is roped in – and, sweet Shiva, even Tseng turns up out of no where as they're all set to leave, joins them with a familiarity that implies he's been with them through all the years of sneaking out (and that's a rather worrying thought).

There's alcohol and girls for the others, a bar-keeper called Tifa who doesn't hesitate to smack Adrian over the head with a bottle once or twice, Rude hiding his grin behind a glass as they toast his coming birthday. Not legally an adult, not yet, but he'll be officially presented to the company as his father's heir, and the Turks that have guarded him since he first stumbled out into the big bad world will owe their service to him, won't have to accept orders from anyone that contradicts his own. Not even his father, President ShinRa, will be able to command Reno or Adrian or any of the others after seven o' clock Thursday evening.

He doesn't really drink much – Tifa starts talking about her friend Cloud, and that just starts a thought-trail that leads him back to Sephiroth. In the beginning, he used to worry about Seph, going into battle against frenzied warriors, but since then he's had a few sweaty escapades in the SOLDIER training rooms (whenever the Turks can sneak him in) and after seeing him spar with Zack, practicing on his own in the battle simulator, he has to admit that to even consider the idea of him being injured is ludicrous.

He still worries though. Just a little.

He's called to his father's study the next morning, his thoughts sluggish from what little (but potent) alcohol he had last night. Leaves Reno on the other side of the door; steps in confidently to talk to the President.

When he leaves it, he's stumbling, he's sick, shaking, and he can barely keep himself from crying as Reno half-carries him back to his private rooms.

By the time Reno's heard the story, he's so flaming furious Rude has to physically hold him back from electrocuting the President's ass.

His father's decided his son has to be a man. Come-of-age, so to speak.

"No heir of mine'll be a virgin!" He'd spat, fingers steepled over his desk as Rufus turned paler and paler. "I don't give a damn what your preferences are – you'll provide the company with heirs when the time comes, heterosexual or queer – but you can have your pick just this once."

He'd grinned. "A birthday present, if you like."

Sick, sick bastard.

He'd stammered that he preferred males, hating the loss of composure in front of his father but unable to prevent it.

The man had shrugged, reaching for a sheaf of documents, obviously dismissive. "Then I'll assign a Turk – or would you rather a SOLDIER?"

The thought of all that mako-enhanced strength, that untameable force tearing into him, uncurbed by Sephiroth's careful tenderness, his caring passion, makes him want to be sick. Makes him want to punch his father in the face, break his nose and his jaw for even suggesting such a thing – and saying it so casually!

He gives Reno the whole, aching story as he's curled up on his bed – not crying, because he never cries, but his breathing's shaky and random and it's hard to miss the Turks' worried glances, Adrian and Rude and when did Tseng arrive, Reno stroking his hair as if he were thirteen again, as if he wasn't really too old for 'this sort of thing', his voice low and soothing as he promises, promises that they'll sort this out.

"We won't let any of them near you, Rufus," he swears, fire smouldering just beneath his voice, where he's meant not to hear it, as if the fierceness of it might scare him. "We'll barricade the fucking door if we have to, but they won't come near."

Rufus closes his eyes, because he knows it's not that simple – nothing in life is ever that simple, not since he had to wake up and grow up for the world – but he doesn't want to remind Reno about the physical exam he'll have to pass before the presentation to the company, because he can hear the desperation in Reno's voice and to allow him this, this little relief, is all he can do.

He tells Sephiroth, of course. Even if the General's in Wutai, even if it's before ten o'clock, the safe hour when Seph's promised he'll always answer, Rufus has to talk to him when the Turks leave him to let him sleep.

Seph picks up on the fourth ring, and underneath the shiver-ice coldness Rufus can hear his concern. "Rufus?"

He doesn't cry, because he never cries. But he comes damn close as he tells Sephiroth everything – this whole fucked up mess, how much Rufus misses him, how he's scared and angry and he wants to get an assassination contract for his father, and he's sorry that he called but he just had to talk.

For a minute, there's no sound at Seph's end but harsh, laboured breathing, and Rufus' knuckles go white as they clutch at his cell. "Seph?"

He almost drops the phone in shock as Sephiroth snarls, low and rough and animal, and he thinks he hears someone in the background ask, "Seph, what's wrong? What – "

"Listen to me, Rufus," Sephiroth snarls, and Rufus' breath hitches in something fear-spiked, "They are not going to touch you. They will not have you. You are mine, your virginity is mine, and rest assured that anyone that tries to take that from me will rue the day time began and led to his sorry birth."

He can picture Sephiroth's eyes; wild, angry cat-slits, and he gasps softly at the image – and it shouldn't get him hot and wanting to hear Sephiroth so possessive, so damn dominating, but it does and fuck, he knows Seph can tell from his breathing over the cell, and that just makes it worse.

Sephiroth gives a low groan, interspersed with angry hisses. "Rufus, I'll take care of this."

His voice is so cold and so hard it brings Rufus up short – it's a blatant reminder, however unintentional, that people are right to fear his lover, and he's about to speak and try and soothe when there's a crunch, like a laptop crushed underfoot, and then just silence.

)0(

Rufus mentally borrows Sephiroth's ice over the next few days, swinging it over his shoulders like a cloak of glacier-cold silk. He barely talks, but he leaves his room occasionally, finding Tseng in the library a few times as he searches for something to read. Something to occupy his mind, to leave no room for Thursday.

The head Turk silently points to a low, circular coffee-table, smooth polished wood, where a small, neat pile of volumes are already waiting for him.

He's sick with nerves, with fear, but he refuses to show it; grits his teeth and digs his heels and refuses. As the household grows more and more expectant, the atmosphere tenser, he shuns the servants, the officials, everyone but 'his' Turks – and even Reno, on Wednesday evening, is locked out, left to panic outside the door as Rufus curls up in the middle of the floor, clutching his head and forcing himself to swallow his tears.

It's like drinking lightning. And not in a good way.

Reno doesn't use his card-key to get in, but Rufus knows that whoever's been 'assigned' to him won't have the option of leaving him alone. His fingers pull painfully at his hair, and he chokes a sob down as the desperation hits him, thrown at his chest from the gleaming face of the clock.

Twenty minutes before some nameless face walks through that door on his father's orders.

"Rufus! Come on boss, don't do this to me, yo!" Reno yells, fist pounding on the door. "It's gonna be ok, all right? Just open the door, Rufus!"

He can hear the desperate panic staining Reno's voice like blood on a shirt, and he idly wonders why the Turk doesn't just use his card-key if he's that concerned –

And suddenly, it all goes quiet.

Soft voices on the other side of the door, and Rufus looks up, red-eyed, at Reno's relieved laugh.

"He's not gonna believe it! No, no – just ask him, he'll let you in…I left my card with Rude," he explains sheepishly – and it can't be the man assigned to him tonight because there's no way Reno would be so friendly with them – he'd be more likely to stick his electro-rod somewhere distinctly unpleasant.

Rufus hears someone walk away; soft, light steps that sound like Reno's, and he lets his head fall again, a dark wave of dejected depression waving over him. He can't believe that Reno would leave him here…

"Rufus?" Cool bemusement; a touch of worry. "Rufus, may I come in?"

He's up and opening the door before he even takes a breath, throwing himself into Sephiroth's open arms with a muffled cry as he buries his face into Seph's silk-clad shoulder, and he feels every inch the sixteen year old he's shortly to become in that one second.

"I – I – " Words choke him, block his throat and burn it like acid, and his shoulders are shaking as he refuses to cry, never never never, Sephiroth's hands soothing over his back, his hair, wordless murmurs assuring him that the world's ok. He drinks in the reassurance desperately, needing it, needing so much more, and he meets Seph's liquid gaze as he presses his mouth to the General's.

He'll learn the whole story later. The real one, not the tale the SOLDIERs spun for the media. How, after hearing of President ShinRa's 'birthday plans' for his son, Sephiroth had crushed his cell phone into tiny fragments, unable to control his panic-tinted fury. How he'd instantly turned and torn the SOLDERs under his command from their sleep, literally pulling them out of their pallets and throwing them from their tents until he had them assembled, ready and waiting for orders, knowing better than to question why their General had decided, out of the blue, to lead a night attack.

How the army, lead by General Sephiroth and First-Class Zachary Donovan, had turned and slaughtered Wutai's unsuspecting forces. How the rumours were already telling of how a silver-haired god had come from beyond the stars to fight with them, a snarling whirlwind wreaking death and blood wherever he went.

They'd won the war in a single night – all so Sephiroth could return in time for this.

This. Hot, swirling kisses as Rufus is pushed backwards into his room, Sephiroth kicking the door shut behind them as he claims the blond's mouth, Rufus' hands already twined in silver locks.

This. Wet, slick tongue, roaming hands beneath jacket-shirt-trousers, mark of teeth; and Sephiroth smirks against his throat as Rufus throws his head back, eyes closed as he cries out, the hand between his thighs pinning him against the wall.

This. Hurriedly undressing, suddenly useless fingers tugging at shirts, at zips and straps and belts, until Sephiroth growls, eyes cat-narrow slits, and his hand jerks down Rufus' front, the white shirt ripping with a loud tear as pearl-milky buttons scatter to the corners of the room, Rufus' chest rising and falling like a hummingbird as he whimpers under Seph's hungry eyes.

This. Rufus arching, crying out as Seph's careful fingers prepare him, chocolate-flavoured oil slicking him up, stretching him open; and it hurts, it hurts and his face must show it because Sephiroth falters, hesitates-unsure, looking up at Rufus from where the blond straddles his hips.

This. Whimpering, moaning, almost tearing the sheets in his grip, Seph's hands on his hips, holding the blond still, on all fours as Sephiroth's tongue spears him open, thrusting, wet and wicked, thorough preparation that has Rufus writhing, gasping, begging past choking sobs, "Please, Seph, Shiva-please!"

This. Sephiroth's hands on his waist, careful and firm, Rufus straddling his hips again, panting, glazed-eyed; and he grits his teeth against the sensation of spit and oil sliding down his thighs, trying not to come from that alone. And then Seph's lowering him, gently-gently-careful, his fingers bruising on Sephiroth's shoulders as he's slowly filled, oh-so-slow oh-so-sweet, so-sweet so-sweet: his moan echoes from the General's throat before it's mouth-to-mouth, hot hard sweetness, filling him to the brim, to the brink as he swallows it down, taking it all.

This. Thrusting, rolling his hips, riding Seph's cock as his lover's tongue fucks his mouth, as his mind spins and hazes, moaning-whimpering, and it all blurs together; Sephiroth's hissing groans, the amazing fullness, the heat, the slick slide of sweat-on-skin, the taste of mako in his mouth and green, green, green.

Sephiroth silences his cry with soft lips and tongue as he comes, bucking in his lover's grip, whimpering as the colours all spiral in his vision, greengreengreen and glittering, hot, burning fire, claiming him from the inside out as Seph shudders into him, thrusting harder, almost desperately as the General breaks their kiss, panting with glazed eyes, and Rufus can only stare at the diamond-shining threads of saliva joining their lips as he feels Seph's release inside him, hard and deep and branding.

There's no more strength to stay upright, and entwining their legs together they both fall sideways onto the bed, panting and breathless and breathing past thick, golden honey as Sephiroth curls an arm around his waist to pull him closer, still joined with his blond lover as Rufus curls up with a sigh, blinking slowly, worn out.

They smile into a soft kiss, and Rufus falls asleep with his head on Sephiroth's arm, silver hair, soft and silken, brushing over his cheeks – and can't remember ever being happier in his life.


Present Day

"You have been found guilty of all charges by a fit and fair jury. The sentence chosen is execution by firing squad."

Rufus glances desperately at Reno, and feels his heart skip a beat at the pale fear clearly defined on the Turk's face. They're not ready, not prepared, but the guns are being raised, cocked and aiming, and they're not fools – they know what can kill a SOLDIER and what can't, and those bullets will lodge in Sephiroth's flesh before they explode, tiny grenades that will rip him apart from the inside out.

"Any last words?"

No. No. No!

Sephiroth only stares blankly, arms lashed behind his back with steel cords; and Rufus' heart screams in his chest. It's not Seph that should be on trial here, standing on the podium; but Sephiroth can't remember, and they fed him lies mixed with truth mixed with drugs until he couldn't tell the difference any more.

Until he believed what they said of him.

Slowly, the Great General shakes his head, silver hair, heart-breakingly dirty and knotted from his nights in the cells, rustling softly, dulled from it's bright sheen; and the guns rise, twenty-four black mouths of metal, ready to spit death's poison towards an innocent man.

They're not ready; he can't see the SOLDIERs, can't see his Turks in the crowd, but he will not let Seph die.

"No!"

Uncaring of his safety, ignoring Reno's desperate attempts to hold him, he runs straight into the line of fire.


A Week Previously

Sephiroth receives full recognition for Wutai's defeat – there are dozens of celebratory dinners, services, awards and medals that Rufus knows for a fact are all buried in a shoebox under the General's bed, growing dust.

And Rufus learns the full story about Zack and Cloud – the First-Class that was Seph's best friend, almost his only friend within the SOLDIER ranks; and the chocobo-headed blond Zachary had adopted.

It's late, and it's one of those rare nights when Sephiroth doesn't have to disappear, a silver ghost, as soon as Rufus falls asleep. The General has a visit to Midgar the following week, and the ShinRa prince is desperate that all the time leading up to it is spent with him.

He's nuzzled into his lover's chest as Sephiroth, voice low and soft as his hand trails contentedly up and down Rufus' spine, explains that there are some people that are just too sensitive to mako – that would be too powerful, too strong, too uncontrollable if they became SOLDIERs, and so they're turned away. No one cares that they would be immediate First-Classes, that Sephiroth would gladly take them, weave them into the rest of his ranks.

Too strong.

Cloud was one of these. Zack found him after the tests, hypnotised by pale, feathery gold locks and eyes that looked too young to have seen the world. Offered him an alternative – one commonly used and accepted by those in charge, even encouraged.

The organic method.

When Rufus heard that, he laughed, and even Sephiroth gave a small smile as the blond poked his chest. "Does that mean I'll become super-powerful? Since I'm getting all your excess mako?"

The General nuzzled him, strong arms encircling his waist. "Hopefully not – I like you just the way you are."

Sex between two SOLDIERs could pass on mako not used by the dom's body, apparently. Not as refined as the injections, it was a practice commonly used by SOLDIERs of all ranks – the First- and Second-Classes took lovers from the younger men, the weaker ones, and if the relationship stayed solid they could be paired together on missions and all the rest, once enough mako had been absorbed to raise the younger to the dom's level. Since the mako wasn't as refined (as powerful) as that of the labs, the higher-ups were content to accept more sensitive men as SOLDIERs with the organic method.

Cloud, hesitant, had accepted – so desperate to gain entry to SOLDIER that he'd been willing to share Zack's bed.

"He's not ruthless enough, though," Sephiroth mused, stroking Rufus' hair absently. "Zack. He convinced Cloud to let them try a relationship first. Told him he could pull in any of the other First-Classes with such a pretty face if it didn't work out."

"Only it did, obviously," Rufus commented, grinning.

Zack had taken to bringing Cloud everywhere with him – normal, 'injection' cadets tended to resent 'organics'; simply because they had a far easier time of it. The injections, Sephiroth explained, were long and incredibly painful, and the results often didn't show up for weeks. And bar the first few times, there was no pain for an organic, and their eyes often started to shine after only three or four…

"Incidents?" Rufus suggested helpfully.

Sephiroth dead-panned him; he laughed.

The long and short of it was, Cloud often spent the night in the suite of rooms Sephiroth and Zack shared; and when Zack had learned about Rufus, he'd been happy to show Seph how to prepare a male lover.

"On Strife?" Rufus asked, unsure whether he should be appalled…or very aroused: the idea of Zack turning it into a lesson, a demonstration, while Sephiroth watched…

Seph only grinned, kissing the corner of his mouth. "I had to make sure I didn't hurt you, didn't I?"

And he laughs, smiles, reaches up to kiss his lover on the mouth as he pulls Seph down on top of him.

"I'll never hurt you," Sephiroth whispers against his mouth, seriously, heart-felt; and then it's hot and wet and Rufus has to struggle just to remember how to breathe.

)0(

Their time together is precious, is treasured because those golden moments are literally snatched from fate's jaws. Sephiroth is always away on some mission or other, and recently his father's been trying to bring Rufus more into the running of the company. And even if they're both in the city, Sephiroth's been in and out of Hojo's labs a lot recently, and he won't tell Rufus why.

So he can only be pleased when Seph shows up unexpectedly one evening – but warmth quickly turns to concern as he takes in Sephiroth's messed up hair, the bruises on his wrists, blooming like violets on his right temple –

And wild, animalistic cat-slit eyes.

He could have thrown the silver-haired man back, that great strength no more than that of a normal human after one of Hojo's sick games.

He could have called for Reno, could have smashed his fist against the alarm button on his side of the door, sent shrieking sirens tearing through the apartment block.

He could have fought back. Could have kicked and scratched and bitten, could have snarled and driven his knees between Seph's thighs.

But he didn't.

He won't…He won't hurt me, ever. A silent promise – to fate, to the world – but a true one for all of that.

And Sephiroth didn't. Desperate, animalistic, he was almost violent as Rufus let him in, as he took everything his younger lover had to give – took and tore and snatched, rough teeth biting down hard on Rufus' throat, pinning him. Hot fingers curled into his hips, bruising as he thrust Rufus into the wall, unable to see or think past the thick, heavy mist glazing his eyes.

Green – green – green.

But he didn't hurt Rufus. Not really – not when the ShinRa prince was moaning wantonly, his hands curled around Sephiroth's neck as he threw his own head back, savouring the teeth-on-skin, the dominating bite. Not when Rufus rolled his hips into his lover's touch, swallowing as much as he could and begging for more.

He didn't hurt him. Not really.

But when they found blood on the sheets – when they found the Great General asleep in bed with a sixteen-year-old boy (almost seventeen, but that didn't sound as dramatic), exhausted after working Hojo's drugs out of his system – they didn't know that.

If it had been Reno – if it had been Adrian, Rude, even Tseng – they might have been all right.

As it was, Sephiroth woke up without any memory of the night before, people screaming at him, snapping reinforced cuffs around his wrists as they dragged him away from his lover, accusing, spitting poisonous words – rape and underage and manipulating bastardmonster and experiments and Hojo was right; all while Rufus yelled and thrashed in the grip of nameless hands, furious and scared as they dragged the stunned General from the room, stumbling as he met horrified green eyes.

"Seph! They're lying!" Rufus shouted, struggling anew against his keepers. He couldn't let Sephiroth believe them; he couldn't. "You didn't hurt me! You swore you'd never hurt me, Seph! Remember!"

Stunned, horrified green.

"Sephiroth!"

But he's gone: gone, gone, gone, and even as voices start to console – it's ok now and he'll never hurt you again – Rufus feels himself start to break.

)0(

He doesn't see Reno for two days.

His father has had him locked in his rooms. The city's in uproar over the scandal of it – ShinRa's heir with the silver-haired General, and the media's torn between casting Rufus himself as a manipulated child or a conniving, seductive incubus, changing from one to another like the direction of the wind.

He can't make himself care.

It doesn't take long to figure out. He doesn't know what Hojo gave Seph this time – what it was that made him lose control – but the scientist won't step up and admit it in court, and without that piece of truth he'll never see his lover again.

For raping the son of the world-wide company ShinRa, the penalty is life imprisonment.

For raping the son of the world-wide company ShinRa for over a year?

Execution.

He hears Reno's whispered words and can't make sense of them.

"The jury's against him, boss," the red-head says softly, stroking Rufus' hair as the ShinRa prince rests his head in the Turk's lap. Just like when he was a child. "It…It doesn't look good for Seph."

Deep beneath the layer of numb coldness he's worn for days – ever since he saw Sephiroth's eyes as they dragged him away – he feels the hot flame of anger, of fear and fury that they think they can do this to Seph. He belongs, body and heart, to the General – but that means Sephiroth belongs to him as well.

The room is full of those that will help him. His Turks – Adrian, Rude, Tseng; ever-present, big-brother Reno. The SOLDIERs more loyal to Sephiroth than the holder of their contracts – Angeal and Genesis, Zack and Cloud.

They're all watching him. They're all with him.

"Then let's change the odds," he murmurs, eyes turning flinty hard as he sits up and beings to plan.


Present Day

"Hold your fire!"

Rufus doesn't catch who it is that shouts the conflicting order out over the stadium, and he doesn't care as he throws his arms around Sephiroth, burrowing his face into the General's shoulder.

"Rufus…?" Seph whispers, and his voice is rough from thirst, his hair, when Rufus runs trembling fingers through it, is knotted and matted and he'll kill them for this, he truly will!

"It's ok, Seph," he whispers back, cupping his lover's face to kiss his mouth softly. "Everything's ok now."

"But…I…"

Rufus places a finger against Seph's lips, silencing him. "You didn't hurt me, Seph," he said softly. "You made a promise."

"Someone get these cuffs off of him!" He snapped suddenly, and his face transforms from loving concern for the General into something cold and hard, the perfect mask for ShinRa's heir. "And find Professor Hojo at once! Place him under arrest for conspiracy to commit rape and unconsensual drug testing." His eyes narrowed at the crowd. "Now!"

Someone scrambles up onto the podium, keys clinking, and it's only moments before the heavy, bruising cuffs fall to the ground as Sephiroth encases Rufus in his arms, pulling him close and kissing him hard, a hand in blond hair as if Seph's afraid to let him go.

In the stands, there's outcry, uproar – his father is shouting, yelling, but Tseng's gun and Reno's electro-rod are talented convincers, and, unneeded after all, the four SOLDIERs are making their way to the ground – Cloud's hand in Zack's, Angeal and Genesis standing side by side like the warriors they are.

This is how it's meant to be. And when Reno and the rest of his Turks climb down, the President conveniently vanished, they stand in a neat circle around the two that have linked them all together – the silver-haired General only newly with a heart, and the ShinRa heir that isn't sure how to listen to his own.

"Seph," Zack says gently, breaking the private moment, "we have to go."

Rufus looks up, startled, but Sephiroth doesn't move, his chin resting on the top of blond locks as he holds Rufus close.

"Come with me?" He whispers, brushing his lips over Rufus' brow. "You know they'll never let me be after this. Hojo will get away with it – he always gets away with it – and I'll face the guns."

His voice is still hoarse, and Rufus can't speak as the General's grip tightens. "I would have walked into the bullets if I'd done what they said," Seph said quietly, knowing Rufus can hear him. "But if I didn't…If I didn't, I'd rather spend the time I have with you."

He hates to admit it – but Rufus hesitates. Pauses in the doorway between lives, his hand on the polished handle, and isn't sure which way to step.

Behind him lies the life he's always known, but irrevocably changed. Rich luxury, lavish homes and anything he could desire at the touch of a button, a scant handful of words to the right people.

But before him…Even if it's a steep drop, a sudden chasm tearing through his reality…

Sephiroth is standing there, his arms open and inviting. Promising to never let him fall.

And, smiling, Rufus takes his lover's hand; whispers, "Let's go."

)0(

Rufus ShinRa is seventeen years, four days, and nine hours old when he disappears from the face of the planet.

Along with a precious handful of SOLDIERs and Turks, he and the legendary General Sephiroth are glimpsed leaving the city, the silver hair shorn short and Rufus' white suit replaced with rough casuals that he's fallen in love with. There's a compilation of ShinRa issue weapons shared out among the motley, deadly crew, and they're displayed prominently enough that they have no trouble leaving the gates.

Someone – maybe a back-alley child, or a watch-guard on the city walls – hears the brat prince laugh as a flash of silver hair catches the light. Hears the liquid joy and freedom in the sound, like sunlight set to the violin. Children of the West Wind, wild and free.

Someday, somewhen, someone will catch them. No one can run forever, no matter how far or how fast they go. And the whole world will be searching for them – four SOLDIERs, four Turks, a living legend and ShinRa's heir. It will end on a dark day, when the rain falls down from the sky and bullets tear their world apart.

They know that. Rufus knows that.

But they're doing it anyway.

Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.